Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


The following is a list of some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the United Nations’ Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative. 

1. What is the Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative?    

The SSE initiative is a United Nations (UN) initiative, working as a partnership between the UN, UN-supported organizations, stock exchanges, investors, companies, regulators and governments.

The SSE initiative is co-convened by four organisations – the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), United Nations Global Compact and UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).

The SSE aims to provide an effective platform for peer-to-peer dialogue among global exchanges. By exploring how stock exchanges can work together with investors, regulators, and companies, the SSE hopes to encourage sustainable investment, while also enhancing corporate transparency and performance in respect to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues.

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2. Why should stock exchanges join the SSE initiative? 

Stock exchanges have an important role to play in global efforts towards sustainable development. In the past few years, collaboration among policy makers on matters related to sustainability, ESG reporting, and responsible investments has been increasing. Global platforms such as the ‘High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda’ and the ‘Group of Friends of Paragraph 47’ show that we are approaching a political convergence that places sustainability at the center of the world economy. At the same time, we are witnessing growing investor interest in the sustainability practices of listed companies. This combination of factors provides stock exchanges with an opportunity to play an important leadership role in promoting sustainable business practices.

There is now more data available from academic and investor research, which suggest that ESG issues have a material impact on investments. In addition, large institutional investors have started to acknowledge the integration of ESG matters in financial decision-making as a ‘fiduciary duty’ in their investment processes.

Investors are increasingly communicating their need for greater disclosure and transparency from publicly-listed companies. This includes matters related to their environmental impact (such as carbon intensity, biodiversity loss and ground water scarcity), involvement and performance on social issues (such as labour standards and human rights protection), and internal corporate governance structure and practices.

Stock exchanges have a strategic role to play in this shift: they can encourage responsible investments by offering sustainability indices and other relevant financial instruments. Moreover, by encouraging their listed companies to measure and publicly report their ESG performance and impacts, stock exchanges can promote better business practices within their capital markets.

A number of UN member States are now adopting sustainability frameworks for their capital markets. Many have ‘comply or explain’ rules that help to guide disclosure for listed companies (and even non-listed companies). There are various challenges to the design, implementation, capacity and awareness of these initiatives and there is no “one size fits all” approach for markets around the world.

To address these issues, the SSE initiative provides a peer-to-peer learning forum, and a platform for high-level deliberation between exchanges, policy makers, regulators, investors and companies. By joining this initiative, exchanges can help promote sustainable business practices not only in their own markets, but in global markets.

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3. How has the SSE initiative evolved? A brief history.   

The SSE initiative has its roots in the responsible investment workstreams of UNCTAD, Global Compact, UNEP-FI and PRI. In a spirit of working as “one UN” these organizations partnered to create the Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, which was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York in 2009.

Since then, the SSE initiative has been working to engage exchanges in the dialogue on how to promote better markets through more sustainable business practices and responsible investment. At the third SSE Global Dialogue in 2012 at the “Rio+20 Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the SSE invited stock exchanges around the world to officially become involved in the SSE initiative by making a voluntary public commitment to promoting sustainable capital markets. In response to the call, five stock exchanges made this public commitment, becoming the founding Partner Exchanges. These exchanges were: BM&FBOVESPA, Borsa Istanbul, Egyptian Exchange, Johannesburg Stock Exchange and NASDAQ OMX. Since then, a number of leading exchanges have partnered with the SSE initiative. See our Partner Exchange page for the up-to-date list of SSE Partner Exchanges. For a full overview of the history  of the SSE initiative please visit our Background page.

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4. What is the significance of the SSE Global Dialogue? How often is it organised?

The SSE Global Dialogue is the initiative’s flagship event. Held every two years, the objective of the forum is to bring together senior stock exchange executives, policy makers, regulators, investors and companies, so that they can share their sustainability experiences and best practices with one another and deliberate on new approaches to global challenges. Previous Global Dialogues have taken place in Geneva, New York, Xiamen and Rio de Janeiro.  If you would like your organization to be considered for attending or speaking at this event, please email info@www.sseinitiative.org. For more information on past conferences, click here.

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5. How does the SSE initiative operate?

The four co-organizers of the SSE initiative (UNCTAD, UNGC, UNEP-FI and PRI) manage its Secretariat activities. Each of these UN or UN-supported organizations is active in the field of promoting responsible investment and sustainable business practices. Each works to facilitate the involvement of its complementary and overlapping constituencies (i.e. companies, investors, regulators and policy makers) in the activities of the SSE initiative. The SSE initiative’s operational structure is depicted in the image below:

                                                                                      Figure 1: SSE initiative’s Operational Structure

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6. Who can join or participate in the SSE initiative?       

Any stock exchange whose country of incorporation is a UN member State can join the SSE initiative and become a “Partner Exchange.” Please note, at the moment the SSE initiative is inviting only stock exchanges and there is currently no arrangement for other types of trading platforms to join the initiative.

The SSE initiative also invites all capital market stakeholders (investors, companies, regulators and policy makers) to join the SSE Global Dialogues, participate in the SSE Consultative Group, and propose potential SSE workstreams to explore best practice on how stock exchanges and their regulators can promote sustainable business practices and responsible investments.

In addition to the above, investor signatories to PRI and UNEP-FI can also participate in the SSE Investor Working Group (IWG), which provides the investor’s perspective to discussions with stock exchanges and other actors involved in the SSE initiative.

The SSE secretariat also engages with the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE) and the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) to involve them in the work of the SSE, both in specific project workstreams and at the highest level of policy discussion during the biennial Global Dialogues.

Other institutions that have relevant interest in capital markets are welcomed to join specific SSE-related projects and work streams.

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7. What are the opportunities for, and expectations from, Partner Exchanges?        

SSE Consultative Group: After becoming an SSE initiative “Partner Exchange,” stock exchanges will be asked to nominate a representative for participation in quarterly calls of the SSE Consultative Group. Partner Exchanges  take a leading role in this group, helping to set the strategic direction and shape the specific work-streams of the SSE initiative. These meetings are also an occasion for Partners Exchanges to provide updates on new or potential activities as they become available. Investors, regulators and companies are also invited to participate in the Consultative Group.

SSE Global Dialogue and ‘Report on Progress’: Every two years the SSE initiative hosts a Global Dialogue, which brings together senior stock exchange representatives, regulators, investors and companies, who share best practices and lessons learned in promoting sustainable markets. It is expected that the CEO or another high-level representative of the Partner Exchanges will take part in these biennial invite-only conferences. The release of the ‘SSE Report on Progress’ coincides with the Global Dialogues. The report is designed to measure exchanges’ progress in promoting better ESG disclosure and performance among companies. The report highlights policy developments that support the SSE initiative’s agenda, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Work streams: The SSE initiative Secretariat has defined a work plan that will contribute to the mission of the initiative and provide further peer-to-peer learning. Future projects will be confirmed based on feedback from Partner Exchanges and other stakeholders involved. Partner Exchanges’ involvement in any particular work stream is voluntary and ad hoc.

Fact Sheets: All stock exchanges that are members of the World Federation of Exchanges are asked to document their progress in promoting sustainable markets. This includes documenting their ESG activities on ‘Fact Sheets.’ This information is updated at least once a year and is published on the SSE website. In mid-2014 Partner Exchanges will be asked to issue an advanced version of these Fact Sheets, as an opportunity to enhance communication with stakeholders and share their efforts to advance sustainability within their market.

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8. What is the process to become a Partner Exchange? 

Stock exchanges interested in becoming a Partner Exchange are required to make a voluntary commitment to advancing sustainability in their market with a letter signed by a senior representative (e.g. the CEO or Chairman of the Board). In the letter, the exchange publicly endorses the statement:

“We voluntarily commit, through dialogue with investors, companies and regulators, to promoting long term sustainable investment and improved environmental, social and corporate governance disclosure and performance among companies listed on our exchange.”

The commitment letter should be addressed to the four organizers of the SSE initiative Secretariat and be sent by email to info@www.sseinitiative.org.

If an exchange would like to receive a formal invitation to join the SSE initiative, please contact info@www.sseinitiative.org.

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9. Are there any financial obligations on Partner Exchanges from the SSE initiative?

No. There are no financial commitments expected of Partner Exchanges or other stakeholders involved in the initiative.

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10. Are any aspects of the SSE initiative legally binding?

No. The SSE initiative is a voluntary initiative that works to accelerate sustainable business and responsible investment practices in capital markets worldwide.

The commitment asked of exchanges is in no way legally binding. However, the initiative encourages and facilitates Partner Exchanges to be proactive on matters related to sustainability in their capital markets. Making the commitment is about publicly signaling the relevance of sustainability issues to the exchange, and then making a good-faith effort to integrate sustainability into the exchange’s business strategy.

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11. How does the Secretariat of the SSE ensure that Partner Exchanges are fulfilling their commitments to the initiative?

The Secretariat engages with exchanges through its Consultative Group, specific work streams and its biennial Global Dialogues. Exchanges are expected to make a good faith effort to voluntarily participate in these activities as their time / resources allow and the Secretariat will take note of the engagement activities of Partner Exchanges.

The Secretariat also maintains ‘Fact Sheets’ on the SSE initiative’s website for a number of leading global stock exchanges. Each of these Fact Sheets provides a template for publicly sharing the activities that stock exchanges are taking to advance sustainability in their market. Partner Exchanges are asked to provide timely updates for these Fact Sheets.  By keeping the Fact Sheets up-to-date, and improving their usefulness going forward, the Secretariat looks to provide stakeholders with relevant information needed to inform their dialogues with exchanges. If any stakeholders have information to share in addition to what is currently disclosed, feedback is highly appreciated.

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12. What if a Partner Exchange fails to comply with its commitment to the SSE initiative?

The Secretariat of the SSE stays in touch with the Partner Exchanges and monitors their action on the voluntary commitment to the SSE initiative. Though the SSE commitment is not legally binding, the Secretariat expects ongoing good-faith efforts by the Partner Exchanges.

In case of a credible event of large corporate mis-governance, management breakdown, or serious failure to abide by the voluntary commitment to the SSE initiative, the Secretariat will notify the said exchange and seek explanation on the reported events. The Secretariat will then conduct a thorough inquiry and review the association of the Partner Exchange with the SSE initiative. If the Secretariat does not find the exchange fit-and-proper to fulfill its SSE commitment, a notice will be issued to the exchange and its association to the SSE initiative as a ‘Partner Exchange’ will be initially suspended for a period of six months. After this six-month suspension, the Secretariat will seek a report-on-progress by the exchange.

A further review will then be conducted. If the situation is found to have improved and the exchange demonstrates reliable progress in its action to abide by the voluntary commitment to the SSE initiative, the exchange will be reinstated as a ‘Partner Exchange. If not much progress is reported and a status quo of the situation is adjudged, the exchange will stay in suspension for an extended period of 12 additional months. If the situation remains the same after this extended suspension and there is a continued lack of willingness to fulfill its voluntary commitment to the SSE initiative, then the exchange’s association to the SSE initiative as a ‘Partner Exchange’ will be permanently terminated.

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13. I am not currently a Partner Exchange, but would like to engage with the SSE initiative. How can I do this? 

The SSE initiative encourages all stock exchanges interested in working to create a more sustainable capital market to become a Partner Exchange. However, all exchanges are invited to engage through a number of mechanisms even before becoming formal Partner Exchanges.

Senior representatives of all stock exchanges are invited to participate in the SSE Global Dialogue event, which takes place every two years. For more information on past conferences, click here. Certain work streams that the SSE Secretariat puts together may also be open to non-partner exchanges. As engagement opportunities become available from the SSE initiative or other relevant partners, the website will be updated here.

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14. I am a researcher. Where do I find more information on responsible investment, corporate ESG disclosure and performance trends?

Researchers can refer to the database managed by the SSE Secretariat on its website. The database covers a number of sustainability research papers published by the SSE initiative and other relevant institutions. It also includes informative Fact Sheets on the current or expected future sustainability activities of global stock exchanges, as well as sustainability reporting policies around the world. The Secretariat puts forth its best efforts to keep this database current.

In addition, to remain updated on the latest activities surrounding the SSE initiative or other sustainability issues, researchers can follow the SSE initiative on its Twitter feed here.

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